As redshirt freshman running back Deion Hankins finished with quite a debut on Saturday in UTEP's 24-14 win against Stephen F. Austin, the Miner fan base erupted on social media in support of the local product. The Parkland High alum ended his most productive game in his young career with 17 carries for 113 rushing yards (6.6 average) and a pair of touchdowns.

From his former high school coach Eric Frontz tweeting out a picture of his first touchdown, to UTEP's all-time leading rusher Aaron Jones sending him a big shout out, to C-USA tweeting out footage of his score, Hankins gave off the biggest buzz on Saturday.

"It feels unreal. You pray for times like this ever since I was a kid. I've been praying, giving glory to God and now see the fruits of everything and reap it. It's amazing." - UTEP RB Deion Hankins

"Our running back group is obviously deep and talented and it was led today by a guy who has been practicing just like he played tonight and that's Deion Hankins," said third-year head coach Dana Dimel. "That's about as physical a running back I've seen in a long, long time. That guy can run and did some great things for us."

Yes, it was only the first game for the Miners and granted, the win came against an FCS opponent. And, other Miners shined in the game too, such as redshirt sophomore Gavin Hardison (212 passing yards, one touchdown), sophomore Jacob Cowing (seven catches, 116 receiving yards) and redshirt senior corner Duron Lowe (interception).

But what Hankins did on Saturday is re-energize a fan base to a local level that they haven't seen since the likes of Aaron Jones.

To expect a pinpoint comparison would be unfair to Hankins. Jones, who also came out of the El Paso prep ranks (Burges HS), became the Miners' all-time leading rusher by his junior year and is starring in the NFL for the Packers. On the other hand, Hankins is coming off his first 100-yard performance with the Miners in his first real outing with the team.

Jones set the bar higher than most could ever reach. Hankins is linked to AJ for all the obvious reasons. The two worked out together during the offseason and are in communication. Still, it's fun for fans to cling onto hope for the young tailback. And from what he showed on Saturday, Hankins' ceiling is growing.

Before he was a Miner, Hankins was one of the highest touted running back prospects to come out of El Paso in recent memory. He earned a 3-star grade as a recruit and was UTEP's top prospect in the class of 2019 when they beat out teams like Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to keep the local standout home. His 7,491 rushing yards is the top all-time city record for El Paso rushers.

In his redshirt season, Hankins didn't play much at all for the Miners, carrying the ball just nine times for 41 yards. He appeared in two games (Charlotte & UAB) before suffering a concussion.

"The difference now is I'm a tougher back," Hankins explained. "Last year I was more focused on being more mentally tough. Last year I was a lot stiffer. I've been working with my trainer and throughout quarantine and that made me a more agile runner."

Now that Hankins felt more comfortable and impressed the coaching staff all offseason, he warranted playing time for himself in the Miners' running back rotation. With senior Quardraiz Wadley returning to the running back unit after a season-ending injury in 2019, along with senior Josh Fields, playing time was going to be a contentious battle for the group.

Against SFA, however, the Miners simply couldn't get their ground game working early on. By the time the Miners scored their first touchdown (Hardison four-yard TD pass to Justin Garrett), they had carried the ball nearly 20 times for less than 40 yards. But after a forced turnover on defense, Hankins was given a chance to score in the red zone for the Miners late in the first half.

As the tweet suggests, Hankins finds a hole, blows up the safety on the carry, gets to the edge and gets some light help from Hardison to get his first touchdown as a Miner.

Then, Hankins started cooking.

Powering through three defenders on this play, it took three SFA defenders to take down Hankins on this 16-yard carry. His legs never stopped on this play and he flashed excellent poise on the ground after contact.

Following a 41-yard carry to the seven-yard line, Hankins executed this play exceptionally well for the Miners as the wildcat quarterback. Instead of change-of-pace quarterback Calvin Brownholtz coming in, Hankins was the signal-caller and followed all the right blocks for his second touchdown of the night.

"We proved it all on the field," Hankins said following his first 100+ yard game. "We went through adversity. I had to be quarantined for about five days so I was only in camp for about a week and a couple days before this game. We did a great job preparing and getting ready for this game."

As we move forward, there will be challenges for the young tailback for sure. Those challenges might even come at practice if Wadley or Fields out-perform him and take playing time away from Hankins. They could come against tougher defenses, like Texas this Saturday, Sept. 12.

For now though, we must appreciate what the local standout did in his first full college football game. Here's to you, Hankins!

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